House moves toward conference committee on sweeping energy bill

House moves toward conference committee on sweeping energy bill
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The House took a step Wednesday toward forming a conference committee on a wide-ranging energy bill.

Lawmakers voted 241-178 to pass an amended version of the Senate’s energy bill. The House replaced the Senate measure with its own energy legislation passed last year and attached to it numerous other, mostly Republican, energy and natural resources bills, including legislation to bring drought relief to California.

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The House can now vote to formally enter a conference with the Senate. In that process, members of both parties from both chambers would be tasked with reconciling differences between the House’s package and the wide-ranging energy bill the Senate passed in April. 

“This has been a multi-year, multi-Congress effort, and a lot of work has gone into making sure that the bill we put forward will support the future of American energy is truly comprehensive,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said on the House floor.

“This bill is about jobs. It’s about keeping energy affordable. It’s about boosting our energy security here and across the globe. H.R. 8 is the embodiment of an all-of-the-above energy strategy,” he said, referring to the energy bill the chamber passed last year.

The bill’s provisions aim to modernize energy infrastructure like the electric grid and pipelines, make pipeline and natural gas export permitting easier, increase fossil fuel research and improve job training for energy fields, among other priorities.

But Democrats said the measure was backward looking and had little to do with modernization.

“A comprehensive energy bill would need to modernize the nation’s aging energy infrastructure, train a 21st century workforce and address the critically important issue of man-made climate change. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, none of these issues are addressed in the bill that we are voting on here today,” said Rep. Bobby Rush (Ill.) the top Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee’s energy and power subpanel.

“This 800-page hodgepodge of Republican and corporate priorities is nothing more than a majority wish list of strictly ideological bills, many of which the minority party opposes and the Obama administration does not support and the American people do not support,” he said.

While dozens of other items have been added to the bill, the one that got the most attention in the House’s debate concerns California’s drought.

It is similar to a GOP measure the House has passed before and would make it more difficult for the federal government to use endangered species protections to increase the amount of water flowing out of federal dams and infrastructure in California.

It answers the long-standing Republican claim that the Obama administration is prioritizing endangered fish in California over people and farmers who need the water.

“Water that can be stored is being lost. Bureaucrats release fresh water out to the sea,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “Our most valuable resource is being wasted.”

Democrats said the drought provisions would do far more harm than good, just like the similar provisions that the House debated Tuesday as part of the appropriations bill for energy and water programs.

“This time, as last night, legislation dumped into this energy bill that will gut the environmental protections of the Delta and San Francisco Bay, destroy the fisheries, destroy the economy of the Delta and water for millions of people,” said Rep. John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiArmed Services Dem: Pentagon not forthcoming about Niger attack Rivalry on right emerges between ‘the two Marks’ Many Calif. Dems silent on backing Feinstein MORE (D-Calif.).

“Why would we want to do this? Well, presumably, to take care of the water interests of the San Joaquin Valley. Not Southern California, but the San Joaquin Valley alone,” he said. “Makes no sense whatsoever. It is the wrong policy.”